Nature’s wrath
INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - January 14, 2020 - 12:00am

I had written my column by Sunday morning feeling quite accomplished about being early for my Monday deadline. But then Sunday afternoon happened and then Sunday evening. And in just a few hours, everything changed. I decided to redo what I had written – which I felt was no longer important at the moment and focus on what has been happening in the past 24 hours.

Over the past several weeks I have written columns about climate change and doing our part to help save the environment. I had written about how our house is burning (quite literally) and that if we don’t do anything about it, we will be seeing the consequences. And – regular geological activity notwithstanding – we are already seeing violent weather phenomenon cropping up regularly. This can’t be a coincidence.

Last Sunday, Taal volcano spewed ash up to 14 kilometers into the air, prompting warnings of a possible eruption. It was scary how quickly things moved. From seemingly harmless videos tourists in Tagaytay were posting of the volcano “rumbling” to full-fledged evacuations, flight cancellations, and parties getting stranded, it was a very long evening indeed.

The wind began to carry the ash and volcanic debris toward the city and people trying to exit Tagaytay, Batangas, and even Cavite were hit with raining rocks and ash. Trying to get it off their windshield wipers was difficult and insufficient amounts of water just turned the ash into mud compromising visibility even more. Many had to pull over and try to wait it out when visibility became impossible.

Meanwhile, those near the volcano were evacuated as quickly as possible as the alert level was raised to 4 (imminent eruption possible) and taken to evacuation centers. These poor families were covered in ash and had most likely inhaled the toxic ash and fumes too. Hopefully, they were able to recuperate at least a little in the centers. There are still many more people that have to be evacuated before the area is secure.

And as for us, and many others, we had been watching the events unfold with concern and it wasn’t long before the winds carried the ashes to the South – Muntinlupa, Paranaque, Las Pinas and eventually to Makati, Pasig, and even Quezon City. It looked like a light rain until you noticed it was actually ash pieces falling from the sky. It wasn’t long before the roads were covered in ash.

Naturally, this caused a bit of a panic in the citizens of Metro Manila as well. As news of the ashfall made the rounds on social media, people began panic-buying respiratory masks or the N95 masks from drug stores and hardware stores. These masks are made specifically to filter out small toxic particles in the air and prevent the user from inhaling them. They are the better choice vs. surgical masks that don’t have that level of filtration.

Because drugstores probably don’t keep tons of these masks in stock, they sold out extremely quickly. My daughter who had just been diagnosed with asthma again went out around 6 p.m. on Sunday to try to find some and she was already too late for the stores in our area. Within an hour (or less) they were sold out. Fortunately, she was able to find the last few remaining pieces in a farther branch but even then there wasn’t enough left. She just got what she could to help prevent her already aggravated asthma from getting worse.

It was awful. More and more videos surfaced of ash covering cars, houses, and streets. And people were warned about the toxic effect that ash inhalation can do and it was recommended that everyone stay indoors and keep all windows and doors closed. It was the right thing to do because driving around also caused ash to flurry making visibility in our area questionable as well.

So now, we are doing our best to recover and stay on our toes watching and waiting. Hopefully, Taal volcano will calm down soon and it won’t get any worse. It has been a scary past couple of days and we are seeing people’s true character emerge. Some are heroically rising to the occasion. There were videos of people helping rinse and wash cars on the road to help them see. Several establishments were offering their venues as places people can stay while they wait. Yesterday, there are animal lovers like members of PAWS selflessly going into Tagaytay and Batangas to try to help the animals with no shelter. There are those compiling lists of places we can donate to and how we can help.

These are modern-day heroes. On the flip side though there are those trying to capitalize on the suffering of others. One of the most awful stories I read online was the lady who was bulk buying N95 masks from the store. She had 10 boxes with 12 masks each while there were tons of people in line behind her in need. When asked she said she was buying for her family (of four, mind you). These masks are reusable and can be used for an extended period so there is no need for a family of four to have 120. And sure enough, once stores began running out sellers online emerged with “extra pieces”. Hoarding mentality at its worst. But I guess it’s the terrible law of supply/demand. Here’s hoping we can be more compassionate with one another in times of need.

I pray that the worst is over. May the winds carry the ash away from the people and may those in Tagaytay, Batangas, Cavite and the surrounding areas remain safe. As of the rest of us – again regular planet activity aside – may we see this as yet another wake-up call that we need to make changes in the way we live and the way we treat the planet. As Scientific American said “while geologists consider this activity a routine part of Earth’s behavior. But scientists have found another force – climate change – affects the frequency of eruptions. Now a new study shows even relatively minor climate variations may have such an influence.”

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